#TBR Challenge 2024

I’ll be participating in the #TBRChallenge from Wendy the Super Librarian once again!

Themes for this year are:
January 17, Once More With Feeling: Territory by Emma Bull.
February 21, Furry Friends: The Wider Worlds of Jim Henson, edited by Jennifer C. Garlen and Anissa M. Graham.
March 20, Not in Kansas Anymore: Was by Geoff Ryman.
April 17, No Place Like Home: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.
May 15, With a Little Help From My Friends: My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields.
June 19, Bananapants!: Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233 by Sean Stewart.
July 17, What a Wonderful World: The White Mosque: A Memoir by Sofia Samatar.
August 21, Everyday Heroes: Dancing Bearfoot by Elva Birch.
September 18, Drama!: Blackout by Connie Willis.
October 16, Spooky (Gothic): All Clear by Connie Willis.
November 20, It Came From the 1990s!: Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader’s Companion by J. Daniel Gifford and James Gifford.
December 18, It’s a Party!: TBA.

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Welcome to Refuge!

This is the official website of writer Victoria Janssen, author of A Place of Refuge, is science fiction #hopepunk following three former guerillas who lose their fight against a fascist empire but escape to a utopian planet. They’re figuring out what’s next with the aid of pastries, therapy, and other people. A Place of Refuge is now available in an omnibus edition with extras. New! Dissenter Rebellion: The Rattri Extraction, a Refuge prequel.

Victoria is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association and serves on the Romance Steering Committee.

You can also find these novellas at Goodreads, StoryGraph, and LibraryThing.

Email: victoriajanssen@victoriajanssen.com.

Social Media:
Romancelandia at Mastodon.
Wandering Shop at Mastodon.
Facebook Author Page.

Last update: 01 October 2023.

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#TBR Challenge – What a Wonderful World: The White Mosque: A Memoir by Sofia Samatar

What a Wonderful World: The White Mosque: A Memoir by Sofia Samatar (2022) hasn’t actually been on my TBR for very long; I just couldn’t wait any longer! I’ve been a fan of her poetic prose since reading her 2013 novel A Stranger in Olondria.

“A pilgrimage has a trajectory: the end is already known. But I’m interested in the randomness of movement. More than just interested: I’m desperate.”

The title of the book references the whitewashed church of a nineteenth-century group of Mennonites, who followed their leader to Uzbekistan, where they settled to await the return of Christ which their leader had predicted for 1889. Samatar, whose mother is Mennonite, began to research this fringe group and their long journey; the memoir begins when she is on a tour of Uzbekistan, but it’s not only about the trip, it’s also a thoughtful reflection on her own past and identity, a mosaic of history and memory. And, the best part, unexpected connections and insights along the way.

The tour was organized by a Mennonite group, so as Samatar writes of the associated memoirs she’s researched for this trip, she intersperses times when their guides read sections of the same memoirs aloud on the tour bus. This results in a vivid overlay of the past over the present. The historic travelers, leaving Russia because they were no longer protected from the military draft by the tsar’s decree, travel doggedly across the desert, knowing that the government of the place they want to settle does not want them but heading their anyway. There is epidemic illness, and the death of their children from disease and hardship; they are attacked and cast out by soldiers; they endure having their crops destroyed and their houses robbed, even a murder. Even after their prophet was proved wrong, more than once, and lapses into mental illness, they stayed until cast out. Their journey was harrowing and didn’t improve much after they settled, but it’s a compelling narrative. The contrasts with the comfortable tour bus and a valley that was desert in the past, but now is crammed with irrigated crops, throws their travails into sharp relief. I felt I understood Mennonites more, as when Samatar points out the determined pacifism of the “Bride Community” under attack, and the pain of separation when some of the community acknowledge they cannot stay, and depart for new lives in America.

I know this is not the cheeriest book, yet at the same time it’s clear-eyed, thoughtful, and compelling as she thinks on communities, being part of communities, and being being broken from them. Some of the chapters are very short, more like meditations spinning off from the previous section of narrative. It feels poetic, which makes sense, as Samatar is also a poet. I loved this book, and recommend it highly; for me, it resonated with today as well as with the past. “In the collective will to harmony, personal failings are subsumed, caught up, stripped of significance, transformed into music. From this inside, this concord feels like grace. It only hurts if you’re outside.”

If you’re an audiobook reader, a friend highly recommended the audio version, which is read by the author herself.

An excellent interview with Samatar at the Chicago Review of Books.

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“The Persistence of Enchantment,” Readercon 2024

Before my own panelist duties at Readercon 33 commenced, I attended a Readercon panel that was a conversation between Sofia Samatar and Greer Gilman about Greer’s Cloudish novels, Moonwise and Cloud and Ashes, and Sofia’s A Stranger in Olondria and The White Mosque. Below are my notes, which hopefully captures some of the flavor of their discussion.

Greer said The Owl Service by Alan Garner stuck with her, especially the aspect of people being taken over by Myth. In Cloud and Ashes, a person who becomes Ashes is silent for a period of time, except for “telling the dead” (sending them on their way); Ashes must not keep anything. Greer mentioned a mirror/chiral self, but I didn’t get the whole thought down in my notes!

Sofia pointed out all of the Theater in Greer’s work, and how that intersects with characters taking on the roles of gods. Greer describes her traveling actors as “louche friars” who show people the embodied gods; it’s forbidden for them to write down their roles.

Greer brings up Sofia’s A Stranger in Olondria. Olondria is “the country of books and angels.” Olondria has writing and books; Cloud does not. Sofia notes that her Somali father was illiterate until his late teens, and while she was writing that book she was teaching English in South Sudan, an ambivalent feeling because though she was asked to teach reading and writing, at the same time learning English is a factor in local language loss. The angels in Olondria are spirits of the dead, oracles; Literature and Death; written down language is dead. Greer: “The burden of godhead.” Olondria: books are “a weird kind of living dead – you can read the words of the dead!” Conflict of literary and oral culture. She explored what happens when a person’s world changes (protagonist becomes literate); the person is slow to catch up.

Sofia noted, “I don’t think a novel is for resolution [of her questions]. A novel is for experience.”

In Cloud, the world literally changes. Some discussion of “The Thinning” at the end of Cloud and Ashes. A third Cloudish book has just been completed, set at a women’s college envisioned by Margaret at the end of Cloud and Ashes.

Sofia: We are captive to myths of hierarchy and scarcity.

Greer on Cloud: shows the status of myths as the world is changing. We’re excited by the beauty of the myth; studying it makes it poetry, you tame it, put myths into metrics, i.e., the horrors and tragedies and beauties of the former world. Actors taking on bearing gods eats them out from within.

Greer talks about Sofia’s memoir The White Mosque as a mosaic [I agree!]; the Mennonites in the book go on a quest and are living a myth while Sofia follows in their footsteps. It’s an Epic mosaic. Sofia: “How do you come back from the wreck of your hopes?” The Mennonite group stayed in Uzbekistan approximately fifty years until cast out by Bolsheviks, even though Jesus didn’t appear 3/8/1889. They’d traveled two years to reach their destination. Most Mennonites find this episode shameful, but there’s now a Mennonite museum in Uzbekistan of the things they weren’t allowed to take away with them, so they gave to their Muslim neighbors.

Sofia mentions her essay in Realms of Imagination, which accompanied a British Library exhibit. She described five dynamics operating in Epic and in modern fantasy. Epic: combining different episodes. Cloud: centers women and the domestic, not considered Epic. Digression: Romance invades the epic.

Sofia recommends the book Planet Narnia; theory tying each Narnia book to a different planet, Lewis thinking medievally. She didn’t entirely buy the theory but loved the book.

Greer says Cloud is more Romance (like the Mabinogion) than Epic. The whole thing is a Digression; what if women wrote epics? And coming out of the Underworld rather than going into it. Greer writes about Persephone a lot; Sofia as well, and including Isis and Osiris version.

[end of my notes]

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My June Reading Log

Welcome to Boy.net (Earth’s Shadow Book 1) by Lyda Morehouse is set in Earth’s solar system a good while after the Archangel books, long enough that most people thing Earth is largely abandoned; also, you don’t have to have read (or remember) the prior books to enjoy this. Mars is now the dominant power, and the people farther out avoid their area of influence, and their ENForcer space marines, as much as possible. This book follows a lesbian couple, one from the science-focused and culturally progressive Moon, the other a trans defector who fled the ENForcers, who want her back to reprogram both mentally and physically via nanobots and her cybernetic enhancements. Though the opening felt like a held breath, the plot swiftly starts rolling and doesn’t really stop through a sequence of different environments and encounters with fun, quirky secondary characters. It’s a very inclusive book, with disabled characters who use cybernetic enhancements, a character with dyslexia, a Deaf character, and people with a range of genders and sexual preferences. Also, at a key moment activists show up and I love that for this story. We need more books showing activism happening in different ways. This is from a small press, so I hope it gains traction and we get more in this series!


Inappropriate Connections by Maykenfan is an epic imagined future of the Vorkosigan clan, featuring the children of Miles and Ekaterin, Gregor and Laisa, etc. as well as Nikki Vorsoisson, and the relationship of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and Oliver Jole. Note nobody dies! I was wary because Miles is in poor health throughout, but he was still going strong at the end of the story.

Catch Your Voice by lavvyan is a fairly old school Hawkeye/Coulson slash story with fluff and pining in which, again, nobody dies.

A Loose Thread by FortinbrasFTW is an Andor sequel in which Kino Loy survives! And Cassian Andor finds him. This had some beautiful, thoughtful prose.

REBEL Y/N? by skitzofreak for RoverKelevra is a story for those who love robots and artificial intelligences in spaaaace. Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso are on an infiltration mission and suborn a tiny cleaning robot. And things escalate from there. The robots are characters, and points of view characters, and I was invested in them. Warning: a couple of the robots are destroyed, but their legacy lives on.

Not the Destination by KiaraSayre is a lovely Steve Rogers/Sam Wilson romance road trip.

Let Me Come Home by prosopopeya for marbleflan is a Supernatural AU which has no supernatural elements; instead, Dean Winchester works at a garage and has foster kids, while Castiel Novak, who’s had a rough time since being disowned by his religious family, has come to town after his niece is left in the foster system. This story is for those who like stories that have teenagers and lots of sweetness and struggle while trying to find a home.

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Readercon 2024 Schedule

I’ll be at Readercon 33, July 11 – 14, 2024 this weekend, in Quincy, Massachusetts, for the first time in several years. Check out my schedule below and stop by my Kaffeeklatsch if you’ll be there!

Salon A Friday, July 12, 2024, 12:00 PM EDT
History of Readercon

Victoria Janssen [moderator]; David G. Shaw; Greer Gilman; Michael Cisco
Veteran Readercon participants and organizers will tell stories of Readercon’s nearly 40 year history. Learn about the awards and ceremonies that are or have been hosted here, events that have come and gone, clandestine attendance by rockstar authors, and maybe a little bit of drama if the panelists think it wise to share. Come to the second annual edition of this panel, now with a different mix of participants for the full Rashomon effect!

Salon 3 Friday, July 12, 2024, 2:00 PM EDT
Retroactive Problem Solving in SF

Victoria Janssen [moderator]; Caroline M. Yoachim; Sarena Straus; Karl Schroeder; Matthew Kressel
A lot of the more hopeful SF is written in worlds where the most urgent problems facing our society today have already been solved, and the characters face other, different problems. But by imagining futures where our current crises are of the past, are we missing out on an opportunity to blaze a real path into such futures? What does it mean to tell stories about solving our problems, rather than stories where the problems have already been solved?

Salon 3 Friday, July 12, 2024, 3:00 PM EDT
Fanfic Writers Going Pro: the Most Recent Generation

Kate Nepveu [moderator]; Wendy Van Camp; Cecilia Tan; Sunny Moraine; Victoria Janssen; Claire Houck
Pro authors have always also written fanfic, but prior generations were likely to limit their public connections to their fandom pseudonyms. In the last several years, newer pro authors are openly linking their fannish identities, and publishers are buying works first published as fic, including original fic. What are the effects of this greater openness on individual works, authors’ careers and oeuvres, and the overall field? What, if any, relationship does this have to fic writers filing the serial numbers off stories for self-publication?

Meet the Pros(e) Salon 3 Friday, July 12, 2024, 10:15 PM EDT

Salon B Saturday, July 13, 2024, 11:00 AM EDT
Archeology in Reality and Speculative Fiction

Alexander Jablokov [moderator]; Kathryn Morrow; Victoria Janssen; Jeff Hecht; Katherine Crighton
Archeology is the study of human cultures through their material remains. Professional archeologists will examine archeology’s past flaws, current practice, and future potential, and suggest ways that their field can inform speculative fiction, including what archeology tells us about the range of human cultures and how an archeological mindset can strengthen worldbuilding.

Basalt, Saturday, July 13, 2024, 12:00 PM EDT
Kaffeeklatsch: Victoria Janssen

Salon A Saturday, July 13, 2024, 2:00 PM EDT
Paranormal Romance, Romantasy, or “Just” Fantasy?

Victoria Janssen [moderator]; Cecilia Tan; Mark Painter; Natalie Luhrs; C.S.E. Cooney
Significant amounts of romance in a fantasy novel can lead to its being designated as part of a romance-focused subgenre, such as paranormal romance or romantasy—which can be a restrictive pigeon-hole or a way of reaching new audiences. Panelists will discuss the reader expectations that come along with these designations and how authors can attempt to write within a particular subgenre, to deliberately subvert reader expectations, or to resist such categorization altogether.

Salon 4 Sunday, July 14, 2024, 11:00 AM EDT
Defining and Appreciating Cozy SFF

Victoria Janssen [moderator]; John Wiswell; Caitlin Rozakis; Steven Popkes; Natalie Luhrs
At the blog Lady Business, forestofglory argues that cozy SFF “generally has small stakes,” “focuses on community-building,” and “honors the importance of domestic labor and other undervalued jobs.” She also argues that its main failure mode is “insularity”: failing to ground a story by situating it within a larger context, or failing to recognize the implications of its background worldbuilding. Panelists will explore how this framework illuminates cozy SFF’s appeal, scope, and relationships to other subgenres.

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#TBR Challenge – Bananapants!: Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233 by Sean Stewart

Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233 by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman definitely fits this month’s category! First in a trilogy, it’s a teen mystery/thriller with speculative fiction and interactive elements, such as phone numbers you can call to get actual messages and websites you can visit, or at least could visit when the book came out in 2006. I did call the phone number in the title, and the message was still there in 2024! My hardcover edition also had supplemental print materials in a pocket inside the front cover.

All that said, you don’t need the supplementary materials to enjoy the story. The main character, high school senior Cathy, has just been dumped by her boyfriend and subsequently has a fight with her mother. Soon after, as she talks with her friend Emma, we learn the boyfriend is much older than Cathy, and might have done something shady before the breakup.

I thought this was an intriguing concept for a book and apparently it sold quite well when it came out. Sean Stewart is one of my favorite fantasy writers, and his characterization and prose are truly excellent. I did not attempt, however, to use the supplemental clues to solve anything, so I can’t speak to that element. But I’m glad I finally pulled this one off the TBR shelf!

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My May Reading Log

At the Feet of the Sun by Victoria Goddard follows The Hands of the Emperor and it took me a really long time. This is because it was 806 pages, which I found out when I was done. I’ll try not to spoil too much. It’s immersive and epic (in a literal sense) as Cliopher, left in charge of the world while the Emperor goes adventuring to find his successor and his old friends, ends up also going adventuring, but not intentionally at first. Many characters and themes show up from the first book, as well as a visit to mythological lands that in this world are not so mythological because you can actually go there. Cliopher has had dreams of being noted in the mythic history of his people since childhood, and a lot of this book involves him working on that goal; also, the emperor shows up again, and new aspects of their relationship are deeply explored. I enjoyed this a lot. If you’re looking for a romantic asexual character, you will find one in this book.

Chaotic Apéritifs by Tao Wong turned out to be second in a series, but I don’t think it’s necessary to read the first one to understand this one. It’s a fairly brief novella about a magical restaurant with both supernatural and mundane guests. A lot of the text involves a mage/chef cooking very assiduously, while using very little magic. The plot is extremely low-key; I felt the biggest moment of tension was when the chef was worried something would overcook while he was paying attention to something else. If you’re looking for a soothing read, I found this very soothing. Also, it made me hungry.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett is the last of the City Watch novels, my favorites of the Discworld series. Sam Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork Watch and reluctant Duke, is dragged to the country on vacation by his wife Sybil. While enjoying spending time with his small son Young Sam, who’s developed a vast scientific interest in excrement from different species, Sam is as usual alert for Crime, and pretty quickly finds some. Like many of the Watch novels, this one addresses the way humans treat other sentients and what might be done about it, in this case Goblins, which are pretty much despised by all. I felt the route to getting respect for Goblins was a bit forced but I didn’t mind all that much, since I was reading this knowing there were no more books in this sub-series and it was the last new one I would ever read. That sounds like it was a sad experience, but it wasn’t. I love Sam Vimes and his strong morality and his righteous indignation at the many wrongs in the world.

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#TBR Challenge – With a Little Help From My Friends: My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields

May 15, With a Little Help From My Friends: My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields only somewhat fits this month’s theme, as the friendships are complex. It’s narrated by the second Mrs. John Watson. She explores a queer relationship between gay Holmes and bisexual Watson throughout the Doylist canon, in sequence. I confess this bored me; I have already read the canonical stories and was hoping for more than having them reiterated, even through a new lens.

The most interesting parts were the small sections that take place in 1919, after Holmes’ retirement, when he and Watson haven’t seen each other in years. “I don’t believe I am am jealous–I’m a modern woman, and I knew of my husband’s flexible nature before I married him–….” However, I felt those sections were far shorter than I wanted them to be.

I don’t think this book was for me!

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My April Reading Log

The Hands of the Emperor (Lays of the Hearth-Fire Book 1) by Victoria Goddard was over 900 pages of fantasy about creating a good government and having your family recognize your achievements and figuring out how to incorporate your culture into a dominant social paradigm. I don’t think it needed to be quite that long; I am not fond of having the same events narrated to different people at different points in the narrative, and the same issues addressed, unless the repetition is presented in much more different ways. But that’s a small complaint. Having the point of view character repeatedly come up against the same issues with his family and friends is realistic, since he doesn’t find a way to solve the issues for a while, and he’s been separated from them for his whole adult life. I was very engaged for almost all of the book regardless and was a little bereft when it ended. The plot concerns the government of Zunidh, formerly part of a magical empire that collapsed. Cliopher Mdang, born and raised far from the centers of power, is the only Islander to work in the Emperor’s palace, as the Emperor’s secretary and head of the bureaucracy. Cliopher, nicknamed Kip, is devoted to his lord and also devoted to making government that will serve the people instead of the princes, and he’s really good at it. Meanwhile, the Emperor is under great emotional strain from his long tenure and magical constraints; all of his food and everything he touches is subject to complex ritual taboos and cleansing rituals, and he is kept distanced from even those he works with closely. The first section involves Kip convincing Tor, the Emperor, to take a vacation, which he does along with Kip, his valet, and various guards including the head and second-in-command of the guards. I loved that it’s a bunch of middle-aged men who aren’t sure what to do with themselves on vacation. Tor begins to shift more power to Kip in preparation for retirement, which leads to Kip finally having to deal with having left his family and culture behind and changed out of their recognition. If you want something long and immersive, with a happy ending, I can recommend this.

The Return of Fitzroy Angursell by Victoria Goddard follows immediately after the end of The Hands of the Emperor and follows the titular character on a lighthearted first-person narrative Adventure in which he’s reunited with old friends and re-discovers many things about himself which he’d lost. I’m deliberately avoiding plot spoilers, so there’s not much to say other than I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Hearts on Thin Ice by Katie Kennedy was a romance between a hockey player and an interior designer, both of whom have tragedy in their pasts that felt a bit outsized to me based on the cartoon cover. Nick Sorensen has just recovered from a plane crash in which his entire friend group was killed; he’s now with a new team and has an apartment holding one armchair and a mattress on the floor. Alyssa Compton spent part of her young adolescence homeless with her mother and brother, and is devoted to making homes for others, though her current boss takes advantage of her employees. Nick’s coach pressures him to both make his apartment “normal” and go to therapy, which he sorely needs. Alyssa and Nick slowly realize how much they have in common, and Nick begins to face the enormity of his losses while dealing with survivor’s guilt. I was engaged throughout, though I felt the secondary characters were bland and the romantic issues towards the end frustrated me because I am not a fan of misunderstandings caused by a lack of communication.

Castle of Horror by Barbara Hambly is a short novelette sequel to Bride of the Rat God involving a possibly haunted mansion/castle in Reno, Nevada, and a truly haunted boarding house filled with ghostly cats. Norah’s sister-in-law is not in the movie but is accompanying her current paramour, who needs to be in Reno to obtain a divorce. I enjoyed the silent film-era setting that this time included a Black movie filming at the same location, with some of the same actors, as the Colossus film production; Norah is writing scenarios for both.

Spoilers ahead:
Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang is excellent but does not have a happy ending; the empire is brought down by dying in the process of destroying the center of power, which makes a lot of sense thematically but was painful to read. The characters were, I felt, subordinate to the anti-colonialist plot, but I couldn’t help wanting the central characters to survive and thrive by overcoming the colonialism in which they were trapped despite knowing that wasn’t the point of the book. There’s a lot in there to think about.

Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall, like other Hall books I’ve read, has a strong narrative voice, in this case an omniscient narrator who is somewhat unreliable and who also, occasionally, interferes in the plot and refers to future events. On the surface, it’s historical fantasy that seems very Regency Romance, but some characters are quirkier than they appear, the romance is Sapphic, and the fantastic element is more Classical mythology than fairy folk (though it has those, too). This was a fun book and I very much enjoyed seeing how Hall played with point of view.

My April #TBR Challenge book was The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.

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#TBR Challenge – No Place Like Home: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

I don’t live in New York City, but I’m close enough and I’ve been there enough that I felt The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (2020) worked for this month’s theme, No Place Like Home. The book expands on the story “The City Born Great” from Jemisin’s 2018 collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month?; in altered form, that story serves as a prologue.

The conceit is that cities will sometimes, rarely, achieve sentience. When they do, creepy other-dimensional predators await to battle and often destroy them. In the world of the book, for example, New Orleans’ birth and then loss to the predatory manifestation is represented by Hurricane Katrina. It’s a cool idea, but I found the end of the book a little unsatisfying. Presumably the sequel, The World We Make (2022) gives a greater sense of resolution to the story.

When the initial avatar of New York City is incapacitated, the city manifests in five New Yorkers who anthropomorphize the five boroughs on New York City, plus one more avatar, and they must work together to fight (explicitly) Lovecraftian horrors and evils such as racism, sexual abuse, and white supremacy; Jemisin stated some of the manifestations symbolize gentrification. Each of the avatars has their own special ability, and made me wonder if this book would be suitable to be turned into a comic or a video game.

I’d be interested to see if there are any academic studies of the fictional sub-genre in which real-life cities exhibit magical sentience. In reading this, I was reminded of the following books I read years ago, that give magical life to London, though not in the same way as Jemisin’s work: The City’s Son by Tom Pollock (2012) and the series beginning with A Madness of Angels: Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin (2009).

The City We Became won a British Science Fiction Association award and a Locus Award.

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My March Reading Log

The Frame-Up by Gwenda Bond is a paranormal heist novel set in contemporary Kentucky. Danielle Poissant is the daughter of a renowned art thief whom she helped send to prison, which led to her being shut out of the world of criminals with magic in which she’d grown up. Wracked by guilt at betraying her family (it’s complicated), ever since then she’s been working as a sort of one-person-and one-dog “Leverage” team, retrieving funds from scummy people and splitting them with the original victim – while not using her magical gift for forging paintings. But then, of course, she’s dragged back into the world for One Last Time by an old partner of her mother’s. The romance element is minor, but I felt like there was just enough to spice up the heist plot. This was a lot of fun, and dog fans will love Dani’s collie Sunflower, who is a Very Good Girl.

Due Diligence: Settling Affairs (Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle Book 20) by L. A. Hall and Succession: Marriages & Funerals (Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle Book 21) by L. A. Hall continue to be very soothing reading as things are set right via clever contrivances and newer characters become more active.

Demon Daughter by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest Penric and Desdemona novella, exploring what happens when a six year old child on a Roknari ship, Otta, acquires an almost brand-new demon/elemental from a rat…and accidentally sets some things on fire. The rest of the story follows Penric, his wife Nikys, and their family as they take care of the stranded Otta and Otta decides what she wants. Family is more complicated than it appears on the surface.

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea grew out of a series of interviews O’Hea intended for archival purposes, about Dench’s memories of all her Shakespeare roles. After her grandson overhead them talking, the idea arose to turn their talks into a book, which was a great idea. I enjoyed reading this so very much I didn’t want it to end, and now I’ve realized I should probably find a production of Cymbeline and watch it, as well as the rest of the Henry plays. This is a chatty book (since it originated as actual chatting between old friends) that also is supremely informative about how this particular actor interpreted her parts, and her philosophy on the art of acting, and what she learned from her various mentors. I loved that she would sometimes say she wished she’d play a certain part differently if she did it now. There’s also a fair few anecdotes about productions and working with different directors and actors. If you’re into theatre, or into Shakespeare, or just interested in an entertaining person talking, definitely check this out.

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge is the sort of nonfiction which intersperses selected summations and quotes from memoirs and diaries with the census and labor statistics, so it was more of an armchair journey than an academic slog. I thought I would be most interested in the Edwardian material but it turned out I was more fascinated by the slow decrease and eventual near-disappearance of servanting as a lifelong career and social class; I also was intrigued by specialized modern agencies that provide factotums and butlers to the very rich, or for special occasions. I want to read more about that; let me know if you have any recommendations. Someone should write a contemporary with a butler protagonist, perhaps falling in love with a bodyguard or a chef.

They’re Gonna Give You Hell by unlimitedInk is an epic Mandalorian farce that also has some important found family and leadership themes. Shortly after dropping off Grogu with Luke Skywalker, Din Djarin missed him painfully and goes to mope around Tatooine. I’m not sure how much to spoil of this, but I’ll just say a swathe of different Mandalorian sects become involved in trying to figure out who will lead them and where they will go, a couple of unexpected sentiences are revealed, more than one Armourer shows up, and Boba Fett is grumpy. If you are a Bo Katan fan, don’t read this one.

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair by tigriswolf is a very sweet Winter Soldier story; shortly after freeing himself from Hydra, he encounters an asthmatic child who’s run away from abuse and immediately becomes protective, which leads to him slowly recovering himself and learning to be a person again, while putting the child first. He and his adoptive daughter make their own family and make a home; only then is able to bring Steve Rogers back into his lift.

Dark Side of the Moon by imogenbynight is a Supernatural AU in which Dean Winchester and Castiel Novak are astronauts. Dean, an engineer, is on the moon when an unthinkable tragedy happens and he needs rescue; Castiel is part of the rescue crew. Aside from being able to travel back and forth to the moon without orbital constraints, this is a somewhat realistic space story, with some spooky parts in the middle.

An Ever-Fixed Mark by AMarguerite is an epic Soulmark AU of Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth Bennet’s soulmark reads “Fitzwilliam.” And she marries Colonel Fitzwilliam, who in this story is terrific, but fair warning, he dies of a wound, and then, slowly, Elizabeth comes to realize she a second happy marriage might be possible. I enjoyed this a lot and did I mention it’s epic? Buckle up, it’s a long ride in a bumpy carriage with lots of intriguing meta examination of Soulmarks and the various ways they could be interpreted.

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